1. Tavares, O’Reilly face former teams
John Tavares will play the New York Islanders for the first time with the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, CBC, SN1, MSG+, NHL.TV), the headliner of the second 15-game day this season and 15th in NHL history.
Tavares, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, had 621 points (272 goals, 349 assists) in 669 games in New York and was Islanders captain from 2013-18 before signing a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1. The 28-year-old center has 42 points (24 goals, 18 assists) in 37 games and is a big reason why Toronto (25-10-2) is a top tier team in the Eastern Conference. His NHL career high for goals is 38 set last season.
Ryan O’Reilly will play the Buffalo Sabres for the first time with the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; FS-MW, MSG-B, NHL.TV). The 27-year-old center was acquired in a trade with the Sabres for Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft on July 1.
O’Reilly had three straight 20-goal seasons in Buffalo from 2015-18. He has 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 34 games for St. Louis this season.
2. Road to the Winter Classic
The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks each play their final games before the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium on Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS).
The Bruins (20-13-4) face the Sabres at KeyBank Center (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, NESN, NHL.TV) and will fly to South Bend, Indiana after the game. The Blackhawks (13-20-6) visit the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center (9 p.m. ET; ALT, NBCSCH, NHL.TV).
3. World Juniors begins
The 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship commences with four games in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia on Thursday, including the United States facing Slovakia (6:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN) and Canada playing Denmark (8 p.m. ET; TSN, NHLN [joined in progress]).
Among the players to watch for the U.S. are 17-year-old center Jack Hughes, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft who skates for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program under-18 team. Jack’s brother, Quinn Hughes, is a 19-year-old defenseman playing for the University of Michigan and the No. 7 pick (Vancouver Canucks) in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Forward Alexis Lafreniere, who could be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, will be the sixth 17-year-old to play for Canada at World Juniors, joining Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Jason Spezza, Eric Lindros and Jay Bouwmeester. Lafreniere had 80 points (42 goals, 38 assists) in 60 games in his first year with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, becoming the first 16-year-old to score at least 40 goals in the QMJHL since Crosby scored 66 for Rimouski in 2004-05.
The Czech Republic plays Switzerland in the tournament opener (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN) and Finland takes on Sweden (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN). The full WJC schedule can be found here.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will try to extend their 11-game point streak (10-0-1) when they play two home games against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET: NBCSN, TVAS, NHL.TV) and the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. The Lightning (28-7-2), first in the NHL with 58 points, have three games remaining in December and could finish a full calendar month without a regulation loss for the second time in their history (Oct. 2003: 6-0-1).
The Columbus Blue Jackets were the last team to achieve the feat when they went 14-0-0 in December of 2016 en route to the second-longest winning streak in NHL history (16-0-0 from Nov. 29 – Jan. 3, 2017).
5. Milestone watch
* Forward Alex Ovechkin is one goal from becoming the second player in NHL history to score at least 30 goals in each of his first 14 seasons (Mike Gartner, 15). The Washington Capitals play the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSWA, FS-CR, NHL.TV) and visit the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
Two NHL players have been the first to 30 goals in a season at age 33 or older: Bill Cook, 34, in 1930-31 and Teemu Selanne, 36, in 2006-07. Phil Esposito is the lone player who was the first to 30 goals in consecutive seasons after celebrating his 30th birthday (1973-74, 31; 1974-75, 32).
Gartner (17) and Jaromir Jagr (15) are the only players to score at least 30 goals in at least 14 seasons at any point in their NHL careers.
* Goalie Mike Smith is two shutouts from 40 in the NHL. The Calgary Flames visit the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; TSN3, SNW, NHL.TV) and are home against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.
* Forward Anze Kopitar is two goals from the 300 in the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings, who are home against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET; FS-W, FS-A, NHL.TV) and the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.
* Forward Justin Williams is four goals from 300 in his NHL career. The Hurricanes play two games on the road: at the Capitals on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSWA, FS-CR, NHL.TV) and the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
* Defenseman Brent Burns is expected to play his 1,000th regular-season game in the NHL when the San Jose Sharks host the Anaheim Ducks at SAP Center on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSCA, PRIME, NHL.TV).
* Forward Patrick Marleau is expected to play his 1,613th NHL game and pass Ray Bourque for 10th place on the all-time list when the Maple Leafs visit the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Friday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, FS-O, SNO, NHL.TV).